It’s Junior Worlds Time!
I can’t believe that this is my first figure skating post of the year, because I have been following it much more than I did last year. My knowledge has increased significantly, and I now know how to identify jumps and how the TES score is calculated. All in all, I am pretty pleased with my progress as a skating fan, although I still won’t pretend to be professional. I also won’t pretend that I know anything about the junior events other than the ladies.
A few weeks ago, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who has had an impressive season with two senior grand prix wins and a win at the first Winter Youth Olympic Games, pulled out of the competition. She was one of the favorites for the gold medal, and her presence will be missed in the competition.
The Russians, however, are not lacking in Junior talent. They may have trouble retaining their three spots at senior worlds in march, but here, all three of their ladies are medal contenders.
The reigning champion, 15 year old Adelina Sotnikova, will be returning to defend her title. Adelina missed out on senior competition by only one day this year, but it may have been for the better. She won two bronze medals on the senior grand prix circuit, which many would consider an impressive debut, but for Adelina, it was a bit of a disappointment, especially considering the success of her teammate, Tuktamysheva. Sotnikova came back to win her third national title with her best skates of the year, and finished second in the Youth Olympics after a shaky free skate. If she skates well, Adelina should be the favorite for gold. She has difficult programs, and she looks like a (young) senior on the ice, which will help her PCS.
Julia Lipnitskaya is the little Russian who has won all of the junior competitions that she has entered this season. The only skater to beat her, in fact, was Sotnikova at senior nationals, where she won the silver medal. I have loved Lipnitskaya since she emerged at the 2010 national championships as a 12 year old due to her incredible flexibility in her spins, and have come to appreciate her incredible consistency this season. Julia has not fallen this year (knock on wood). Her programs are very mature for her age (13), and she has by far the highest junior score ever recorded. She does not have the more difficult triple triples like Sotnikova, and she does not even include one in her long program, but her jump layout is worked out perfectly to create a huge base value. I won’t try to hide it anymore: I want Lipnitskaya to WIN.
The third and final Russian competitor is Polina Shelepen. Shelepen has been on the junior circuit for a few years now, and has won two junior grand prix silvers, but has never won a medal at junior worlds. I initially thought that it would be nearly impossible for her to make this team and that she would have a better shot at going to senior worlds with all three of Sotnikova, Tuktamysheva and Lipnitskaya looking like locks, but she managed to get in when Tuktamysheva pulled out. Shelepen has incredibly difficult programs, but she sometimes has trouble staying on her feet and her musical interpretation and artistry are not at the same level as her younger teammates. Besides the medal, Shelepen has a lot to lose or gain at this championship. A clean performance and improved PCS here might get her a spot on Russia’s senior worlds team, as a replacement for Ksenia Makarova, who has had a lackluster season.
The one who will probably prevent the Russian sweep is a 16 year old American, Gracie Gold. Gold took the world (and the internet) by storm when she won the junior grand prix in Estonia with a score of 172.69. It was Gold’s only grand prix event, meaning that she did not have a chance to make the final, but she went on to win the US junior title in January. Now, she is looking to finish on the podium at her first junior worlds. Gold has huge jumps and good technique, but her PCS will probably be lower than that of the top two Russians. If she can stay on her feet, however, she has a great shot at finishing on the podium.
China’s Li Zijun has been very successful in junior level events this year, winning the bronze at the youth olympics, and last year, winning the bronze at the junior grand prix final. Her skating is very pretty, and she is certainly oen of the top ladies at this event. Li will almost certainly move up to the senior ranks when she turns 16 next year, and take over the number one spot in China.
Christina Gao, 17, will be competing in her third junior worlds. She earned a 4th place finish last year, and looks like another skater who could be in contention for a minor medal. She will need to be more consistent than she was in her senior events earlier this season if she wants to land on the podium.
The final US lady is Vanessa Lam. Lam won the Innsbruck junior grand prix title this year, and qualified for the final, where she placed fifth. Her technical content is not as impressive as many of the junior ladies, and it will be hard for her to medal. This will be Lam’s first junior worlds.
Japan’s Risa Shoji has had a rough season after winning two silver medals on the junior grand prix circuit. Wile she easily qualified for the final, she finished in 6th place (last). Shoji has a triple triple in both programs, but she has struggled all season. She really needs a good performance here if she wants to make an impact as a senior next year.
Joining Shoji on the Japanese team is Satoko Miyahara. Although Shoji has been the more accomplished skater overall, Miyahara, in her first season competing internationally, won a silver at her first grand prix event, accumulating a higher season best score than Shoji, and beat Shoji in both the senior nationals (6th) and the junior nationals, which she won. She performs a triple flip-triple toe combo in the short program and a triple lutz-triple toe in the long.
Canada’s Katelyn Osmond won the qualifying round, and should finish top 10 in Minsk. This is her first international competition of the season, but she turned a lot of heads when she lead after the short program at senior nationals (she finished 3rd). Katelyn’s big disadvantage coming in was that she did not have a lutz, which is required for juniors, but she is now performing the triple lutz, which will help her a great deal. She performed a nice triple flip-triple toe combination at nationals.
Top 10 Seasons Best
1. Julia Lipnitskaya (RUS)- 183.05
2. Gracie Gold (RUS)- 172.69
3. Adelina Sotnikova (RUS)- 169.75 (scored in a senior competition)
4. Polina Shelepen (RUS)- 162.34
5. Satoko Miyahara (JPN)- 162.2
6. Risa Shoji (JPN)- 157.83
7. Li Zijun (CHN)- 157.7
8. Vanessa Lam (USA)- 156.58
9. Christina Gao (USA)- 152.48 (scored in a senior competition)
10. Joshi Helgesson (SWE)- 145.11 (scored in a senior competition)
1. Julia Lipnitskaya
2. Adelina Sotnikova
3. Gracie Gold
In pairs, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are the overwhelming favorites to win their third title, and are in the lead after the short program. Teammates Yu Xiaoyo and Jin Yang are in second, followed by Russians Ekaterina Petaikina and Maxim Kurdyukov. I do expect Sui and Han to win, but the fight for bronze and maybe event silver will be very interesting with teams 3-7 separated by only 1.67 points.
The Russians are looking to sweep the ice dance podium, with Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin, the junior grand prix final champions, leading after the short dance, followed by two other Russian pairs, Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin and Anna Yanovskaya and Sergey Mozgov. Yanovskaya and Mozgov, the Youth Olympic Champions, have left the door open, with the French team of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron in fourth by only .8. The Russians have a much higher personal best free dance score (by 16 points) than the French team, so all is not lost, but it will be an interesting race. Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton of the USA, 5th after the short dance, will also challenge for a medal.
In the men’s competition, China’s Han Yan has the highest score of the season, followed by Denis Ten, who has only competed as a senior this season. They are followed by two Americans, Jason Brown and Joshua Farris.